RFID can prevent drug deaths

Related tags Supply chain management

A leading consultancy firm has predicted the use of radio frequency
identification (RFID) within the pharmaceutical industry could
prevent most of the 1.25 million adverse reactions and 7,000
patient deaths annually in the United States as a result of drug

In addition, the cost savings from the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) is set to become mainstream within the pharmaceutical company supply chains within the next 18 months.

While pharmaceutical organizations have used RFID technology in niche applications such as tracking lab samples, companies have recently begun examining the potential benefits of using RFID to track finished products.

According to the Meta Group, RFID use in the pharma industry is expected to surpass even that of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.

Bruce Hudson, program director with Meta Group's​ Enterprise Application Strategies service attributed this trend to the 'compelling return on investment (ROI) for pharmaceutical organizations and their distributors.'

Because of the high value of pharmaceutical products, the cost barrier for tagging products within the supply chain is relatively low. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged the benefits of a universal electronic pedigree, which will identify and track individual pharmaceutical products throughout the supply chain.

In a recent report by the FDA, the agency estimated that pharmaceutical companies would complete full-scale, pallet- and case-level RFID tagging of most pharmaceutical products within a three-year timeline, using electronic product code (EPC)-compliant RFID tags.

"The inherent problem with EPC technology, from a pharmaceutical perspective, is the lack of anti-cloning features in the EPC chip itself,"​ said Bruce Hudson, program director with META Group's Enterprise Application Strategies service.

META Group predicts that RFID will prove extremely beneficial to the pharmaceutical industry once the EPC specifications are revised, which could take up to two years.

The use of RFID tagging is set to bring huge additional benefits in terms of traceability and access of information. For example, in the event that a product recall is initiated, pharmaceutical companies would be able to respond more efficiently and quickly in identifying the recalled product.

RFID could also be used in the fight against drug counterfeiting particularly in poorer regions of the world. Current recommendations are to deploy two forms of anti-counterfeiting measures, one visible (e.g., holograms) and one invisible (e.g., RFID tags), to implement obstacles to counterfeiting.

However, Hudson was quick to point out issues needed to be addressed: "In addition to authentication, the industry must address the validation of RFID systems by the FDA, the unknown impact of radio frequency energy on drugs, and data management in light of competitors."

RFID implementation is proliferating at an incredible rate. Many see the technology as inevitable as bar codes were a few decades ago, and with Proctor and Gamble reportedly expressing an interest, suppliers may have little choice but to jump on board.

RFID tags are tiny computer chips connected to miniature antennae that can be affixed to physical objects. The most commonly application of RFID contains an Electronic Product Code (EPC) with sufficient capacity to provide unique identifiers for all items produced worldwide.

When an RFID reader emits a radio signal, tags in the vicinity respond by transmitting their stored data to the reader. Passive (battery-less) RFID tags, read-range can vary from less than an inch to 20-30 feet, while active (self-powered) tags can have a much longer read range. The data is then sent to a distributed computing system involved in supply chain management or inventory control.

Related topics Preclinical Research

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